The Netherlands is striving to close the net on old genocide cases and alleged mass killers. The Dutch parliament on Thursday approved a bill that will extend the possibility of detecting and prosecuting genocide. The bill - which will now go to the Senate - allows the Netherlands to better address genocide and war crimes suspects retroactively and to work closer with international criminal courts. The proposed bill stipulates that cases dating back as far as 1966 could be dealt with.
At present, the Netherlands has sufficient jurisdiction to prosecute foreigners suspected of international crimes, including genocide. But that law applies only to crimes committed after 1 October 2003. For older cases, the Dutch Genocide Convention Implementation Act applies, whose jurisdiction is limited.
This has attracted hundreds of people accused of serious atrocities to settle in the Netherlands in the belief that they would be protected from legal action. It has given the Netherlands an image as a safe haven for such people.
Up to now, prosecution is only possible if the crime of genocide was committed by or against a Dutch citizen. This means in the case of the genocide in Rwanda (1994), Srebrenica (1995) and Cambodia (1975-79), Dutch prosecutors are not able to bring a charge of genocide, the most serious crime under international law.
Instead, they are forced to submit alternative charges of war crimes or torture, as was the case in the trial against Rwandan asylum seeker Joseph Mpambara. The Dutch appeals court in The Hague sentenced him to life imprisonment in July for war crimes during the genocide. Therefore, the Dutch ministry of justice wants to expand the International Crimes Act. In this way genocide dating as far back as the entry into force of the Genocide Convention Implementation Act in the Netherlands - 18 September 1966 - would be covered:
"It is unacceptable that an alien who is otherwise guilty of genocide is immune from prosecution, because the Netherlands, before the time of the crime, had no jurisdiction. This sends an undesirable signal to victims and their families," said former Minister for Justice, Ernst Hirsch Ballin when he proposed the amendments. However, he stressed that he would be cautious in granting retroactive effect. Under the new law, an accused person who is on Dutch territory can be arrested, and that includes suspects who are in transit via Schiphol airport.
The new measure comes as Dutch prosecutors and the special investigation team on international crimes expect more old criminal cases in the coming years. The majority of these cases deal with refugees suspected of international crimes, so-called F-1 cases. Examples include the Rwandan massacres, the wars in Afghanistan in 1978-1992 and, in particular, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Cooperation with international courts
The new bill also regulates the extradition of genocide and war crimes suspects to other countries and their transfer to international courts. Because of the Netherlands' responsibility as the host to international courts, the government finds it desirable that all extraditions are possible. As well as handovers to international courts for crimes defined in the Dutch International Crimes Act and the Rome Statute that governs the ICC.
Furthermore, the bill contains a provision allowing Dutch courts to take over cases from international criminal tribunals. Under the existing law, it is not possible to try those accused before the UN tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) or the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
The ability of international courts to prosecute suspects of international crimes and justice, is not unlimited. Because of the limited mandate and temporary nature of international courts they focus primarily on the prosecution of their high level suspects. One major consequence of the new genocide law is that persons suspected of lesser crimes can now be transferred to the Dutch authorities.